5 Culprits That Waste Energy in Your Home


An old microwave isolated on white

Heating and Cooling

Given how much money Americans spend to heat and cool their homes—in 2013, approximately $2,177 per family—it makes sense to invest in high-efficiency HVAC equipment that features a variable-speed air handler. A variable-speed air handler is essentially a “smart” fan. It runs nearly continuously at lower speeds to allow heated/cooled air to circulate evenly throughout the house. In the summer, the air handler removes humidity more efficiently because the fan runs almost nonstop at lower speeds.

According to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), furnace fans/air handlers consume 12 percent of the average household’s total electricity. An HVAC system with a variable-speed air handler allows your furnace and a/c to run at more than just one speed (high). Instead, it can run at a variety of speeds, using just enough electricity to power the fan to meet shifting heating/cooling needs.

Set-Top Boxes

Many electronics that appear to be off are, in fact, always on—a deceptive aspect of smart devices. Invest in Energy Star-qualified electronics when you upgrade your cable box, or buy a smart TV to cap the amount of electricity the devices consume in standby mode.


Charging systems for cameras and phones draw phantom energy, too—they’re constantly drawing small amounts of juice unless you unplug them. You can reduce your home’s collective electricity draw by purchasing environmentally friendly charging platforms and power cords that automatically shut down when the device is fully powered. Or just be obsessive about unplugging them.

Gaming Devices

You wouldn’t want to sacrifice your PlayStation or Xbox to secure energy savings. And you don’t have to—just be smarter about turning them off. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a person could spend up to $100 more per year on electricity by forgetting to turn off consoles (compared with leaving them on 24/7). Set your system to power-saving mode. Newer models now automatically shift into power-saving mode after a certain period of time.

Old Appliances

Standard home appliances continue to use power even when you’re not using them. One example is the microwave, or any appliance that features a digital display. Even if you’re not heating food, the power display uses energy 24/7. Avoid the nuisance of repeatedly unplugging appliances and having to reset the digital clocks by investing in energy-saving appliances that bear the Energy Star seal.

U.S. Home Electricity Use Falls to 2001 Levels


Although Americans are constantly increasing their electricity usage, homes, appliances, and electronics have become more energy-efficient, leading to a decrease in kilowatt-hours for three years in a row.  As a result, the average amount of electricity consumed has fallen to levels not seen since more than a decade ago.  Following the financial crisis, billions of dollars in Recovery Act funding was directed toward home-efficiency programs.

-In the early 2000’s, as a response to rising energy prices, more states toughened building codes to force developers to better seal homes, so newer homes waste less energy.

-Insulated windows have dropped in price, making retrofits of existing homes more affordable.

-Appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners have become more efficient, due to stricter federal energy standards.

-Many 40-inch LED televisions today use 80 percent less power than the cathode-ray tube televisions of the past.

-Incandescent light bulbs are being replaced with CFL and LED bulbs which use 70-80 percent less power.  According to the Energy Department, widespread use of LED bulbs could save output equivalent to that of 44 large power plants by 2027.

-Many consumers have switched from computers to tablets.  The Electric Power Research Institute reports that it only costs $1.36 to power an iPad for a year, versus $28.21 for a desktop computer.

Should I Get a Home Energy Audit?

illustration of green house on half earth with colorful butterflies

If you would like to implement energy-efficient upgrades on your home, but don’t know where to start, a home energy audit is a great place to begin.  Many of these upgrades not only make your home more efficient, but will make your home more comfortable and healthy.  If you find your home is too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, or if you know your bills are too high for the size of your home, you should definitely consider an energy audit.  Also, homes with green features are quickly rising in popularity and sell faster and closer to asking price.

Certified Energy Auditors use various tests and tools to produce a detailed diagnosis and specific solutions to make your home more efficient and healthy.  Auditors will do a visual inspection of your home to find leaks in doors and windows and to check your insulation levels.  Blower door and infrared camera diagnostic tools can measure the air leaks from inside your home.

Energy auditors seek to find improvements that are specific to your home, as every home and region are different.  For instance, a home in a more humid region should take caution before sealing leaks, as this could cause a potential humidity build up.

Colorado residents are eligible for rebates from Xcel energy for energy-effiicient upgrades.  Also, customers using Xcel energy are provided with a list of Certified Energy Auditors.  Please note:  auditors on this list are registered with Xcel, but are not necessarily recommended, so consumers are encouraged to conduct their own research before choosing an auditor.

Groundwork Denver, a nonprofit whose mission is to bring about the sustained improvement of the physical environment and promote health and well-being also have BPI-certified energy specialists to investigate your appliances, furnace and insulation to identify and prioritize energy-saving improvements. They then provide education and resources on how to implement those improvements, connections to other resources (weatherization funding, home rehabilitation programs, rebates and local contractors), and a summary report of findings and recommendations.

Just by identifying simple changes, audits can save you $5 to $300 a year on energy bills.  This energy audit will cost $150, and for another $50, they can implement minor upgrades during the audit.

Benefits of Green Real Estate Investments

     Graph made of green grass and blue sky

As a homeowner, adding green features to your home can quickly increase your home’s comfort and levels of health, while saving you money.  However, for real estate investors, there are also many benefits for adding green features to your properties.  Green real estate investments are quickly becoming popular due to their high profit ratings and are attractive to future renters and buyers.

Tenants or potential buyers of homes and commercial properties will save on their energy bills, so owners can justify increases in rent or the listing price.  Tenants who prefer energy-efficient homes and commercial spaces are likely to be more conscientious, so these folks may be better tenants – paying rent on time and taking better care of your property!

Many green improvements also require less maintenance.  Repairs and replacements that can be done less often will quickly lead to savings for the property owner.  Also, green homes and commercial properties create healthier environments, which sets green properties apart from others in the market.  The ability to market your property as healthy can result in quicker sales and rentals, which is a goal of investors.

So, help yourself while doing some good for the environment – Green up your investment real estate!

Create Natural Light in Your Home with Solar Tubes


Solar tubes, also called SolaTubes and light tubes, are an attractive and energy-efficient way to bring natural light into your home.  These are great for homes in historic Denver neighborhoods, as many of the homes were built very close together and don’t get much light.  Our older homes also usually have attics and solar tubes are literally a tube that goes through the attic.

A tube lined with highly reflective material leads the light rays through a building, starting from an entrance-point located on its roof or one of its outer walls.  The entrance point usually comprises a dome, which has the function of collecting and reflecting as much sunlight as possible into the tube.

Solar light pipes, compared to conventional skylights and other windows, offer better heat insulation properties and more flexibility for use in inner rooms, but less visual contact with the external environment.  Solar tubes are also considerably cheaper than skylights.  They can also be helpful for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder by bringing more natural daylight into the environment.  A home with good lighting also will have an increased value and sell more quickly.

If you are savvy enough to install your own solar tube, you can purchase one for under $200.  To have it installed might cost closer to $500, depending on which company you choose.

Insulating Your Water Heater

A boiler water heater, water droplet, and a flame.

Water-heater efficiency is a boring topic, but water heating is  actually the second largest energy expense in your home, accounting for around 18% of your energy bill.  If your water heater is older and less efficient, you can consider getting a newer model, using less hot water, turning down the thermostat on your water heater, OR you can insulate your water heater and hot water pipes.

Insulating your water heater will cost around $30 – you can find pre-cut jackets or blankets available from around $20.  This will save you $20-45 annually on energy bills, so you should get your return on your insulation investment in about a year.

1.) Turn off the water heater.  For electric heaters, turn off the breaker at the electric panel. For gas water heaters, turn the gas valve to the “Pilot” position.
2.) Measure the height of the water heater and cut the blanket to fit if necessary.  Leave the top of the water heater open—it is important not to block the vent on top of a gas unit.
3.) Wrap the blanket around the water heater and temporarily tape it in place.  For ease of installation, position the blanket so that the ends do not come together over the access panels in the side of the tank. Some tanks have only one access panel.
4.) Using a marker, mark the areas where controls are so that you can cut them out.  For electric water heater units, there will be two panels on the side of the tank. For gas, you’ll need to mark an arch-shaped hole around the gas valves and burner. Be sure to leave plenty of room around the valve and burner areas below. Make the opening at least 1 inch wider than the valve and burner area. Also, mark the area where the pressure relief valve and pipe are. This will be a pipe that sticks out of the side of the water heater.
5.) Install the blanket.  Be careful to line up the cut out areas and then tape it in permanently in place.
6.) Turn the water heater back on.  Don’t set the thermostat above 130ºF on electric water heater with an insulating jacket or blanket – the wiring may overheat.

Is a 203(k) Loan Right for You?

green paint and paint supplies ready to do home improvement

FHA’s Streamlined 203(k) program permits homebuyers and homeowners to finance up to $35,000 into their mortgage to repair, improve, or upgrade their home. Homebuyers and homeowners can quickly and easily tap into cash to pay for property repairs or improvements, such as those identified by a home inspector or an FHA appraiser. Homeowners can make property repairs, improvements, or prepare their home for sale.  Homebuyers can make their new home move-in ready by remodeling the kitchen, painting the interior or purchasing new carpet.

This could be very useful for you if you don’t mind buying a home that may not be move-in ready or would like to have the home customized to your taste… that’s right, the kitchen and bathroom would be designed by you.  For those of you who are passionate about sustainable living, the 203(k) loan could utilized to do green upgrades, such as energy-efficient windows, ENERGY STAR appliances, high-efficiency furnace with sealed ductwork, and solar panels.

The Section 203(k) program is FHA’s primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single family properties. As such, it is an important tool for community and neighborhood revitalization, as well as to expand homeownership opportunities.

Note:  It is recommended to use a 203(k)-approved contractor for improvements.

Colorado Energy Saving Mortgage Program – 2013


Hands holding clear green meadow with sun battery block, wind mill turbines and countryside house. Concept for ecology, alternative energy, freshness, freedom. Green fields collection.

On May 28, Governor Hickenlooper signed into law the Colorado Energy Saving Mortgage Program.  Under this program, a homebuyer purchasing a new or renovated Zero Net Energy (ZNE) home is eligible for an $8,000 reduction on financing the total cost of their home mortgage.  A ZNE home produces as much energy as it consumes.  A new or renovated home that has a HERS rating greater than HERS* 0, but less than HERS* 50 will also receive a mortgage reduction incentive.

In addition to the mortgage incentive, homebuyers will benefit from lower energy bills, which can be used to offset the cost increase of a ZNE home.  For example, $30,000 in improvements on a 2,200-square-foot home after the $8,000 incentive would require an additional $94.53 in mortgage payments each month.  However, the monthly energy savings would be $154.00.  That’s a net savings of $59.47 a month.

Under this new program, a homebuyer can receive an $8,000 incentive and purchase a zero net energy home that is worth substantially more at a lower annual cost than an equivalent non-ZNE home.

With this attempt to move our Colorado housing market to ZNE homes, this movement should create more construction jobs, as well as increase state and local government tax revenue.  According to the analysis conducted by Architecture 2030, each $1 million in incentives will generate:  $16.22 million in direct spending, $16.49 million in indirect and induced spending, and $1.92 million in state and local government tax revenue.

*The HERS Index is the nationally recognized scoring system for measuring a home’s energy performance.  The HERS Index Score can be described as a sort of miles-per-gallon (MPG) sticker for houses, giving prospective buyers and homeowners an insight as to how the home ranks in terms of energy efficiency.  A HERS Index of 100 represents the energy use of the “American Standard Building” and an Index of 0 (zero) indicates that the building uses no net purchased energy.  The lower the value, the better.

Tips on Making a Home Firewise


I am deeply saddened by this year’s Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs.  As a real estate agent, I like to help people find their home and it cuts me deeply to see people lose their homes.

While fire-proofing a home in its entirety is unlikey, efforts can be made to make a home more “fire-wise.”  Several options are available when building a new home, or even when renovating a home.  Everything from landscaping to building materials to detailing and systems affects how your home performs in a fire.

Some important factors to consider when living in a heavily-wooded, fire-prone area are:


-Non-combustible exterior finishes

-Tempered Glass Windows

-Sprinklers (Interior and/or Exterior)

-Controlled Ventilation System

-Fire-safe detailing

For more information, click here.

If you would like to help the victims of the Black Forest Fire, the Care & Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado is helping people who have lost their homes.  The Red Cross is running shelters for the victims of the Colorado wildfires and are asking for financial donations.  The Pikes Peak Community Foundation is also taking donations, for the group’s Emergency Relief Fund, which will benefit non-profits, first responders, and other agencies providing local disaster relief.  For pets affected by the fire, the Humane Society of Pikes Peak says it currently has the volunteers and resources it needs to help families and pets, but monetary donations will help pay for rescues and other needs.

Please take care.

10 Easy Ways to Green Your Home

Conceptual green grass house isolated on white

There many ways to green your home, but maybe you don’t have the time and money to implement all of them.  If you are short on time and/or money, here are some ways you can improve your energy bills quickly.

Choose Energy Star Appliances

If any of your appliances are more than ten years old, the EPA suggests replacing them with Energy Star appliances.  Appliance use comprises about 18% of your homes total energy bill, with the refrigerator using 6% just by itself.  (If you still have the old fridge running in the garage, the EPA states that getting rid of it could save you 150 dollars a year!)  Energy Star appliances use 10-50% less energy and water than standard models.  Energy Star’s website reports that if just one in ten homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would be equivalent to planting 1.7 million new acres of trees.

Control the Temperature

Almost half a home’s energy consumption is due to heating and cooling.  Each degree below 68 degrees Fahrenheit during colder weather saves 3 to 5% more heating energy.  78 degrees is recommended for warmer weather.  A programmable thermostat will make these changes for you automatically.  Also, consider a new furnace.  Today’s furnaces are about 25% more efficient than they were in the 1980s.  (Also, look for Energy Star furnaces.)  Clean your furnaces air filter monthly during the winter.  During hot summer months, shade your east and west windows and delay heat-generating activities such as using the dryer until evening.

Save Water

Placing an aerator on your faucets will cut your water consumption by 50%.  Install low-flow toilets, which use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models.  If your toilet is an older model, adjust your float valve to admit less water into the toilet’s tank. Behavioral changes also add up quickly: using a broom instead of the garden hose to clean your driveway can save 80 gallons of water and turning the water off when you brush your teeth will save 4.5 gallons each time.

Clean Green

This may cost more, unless you choose to make your own household cleaners.  However, it’s worth it.  I personally have always gotten headaches from using conventional household cleaners. Choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products — and removing toxic ones — goes a long way towards ensuring a home with fresh, clean air. Clean air renews and rejuvenates; it doesn’t pollute our lives or the environment. Living in a less toxic home, removed from neurotoxic chemicals, improves sleep and concentration, makes babies less fussy, and gives a sense of well-being. Your household’s toxic burden on the environment will be significantly reduced by following these steps, and this too can bring peace of mind.

Utilize Energy-Efficient Lighting

According to the Department of Energy, if every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with one Energy Star CFL bulb, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for year, save 6 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.

LED light bulbs are even more energy-efficient and long-lasting than CFL bulbs, though have been slower to catch on due to cost.  But if you think of this way, if you place an LED bulb in your child’s room when your child is an infant, you probably won’t have to change the bulb until your child goes to college.

Use Less Paper

Remove yourself from junk mail lists. Each person will receive almost 560 pieces of junk mail this year, which adds up nationally to 4.5 million ton. About 44% of all junk mail is thrown in the trash, unopened and unread, and ends up in a landfill. To stem the flow into your own home, contact the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service at P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512, or download the online form.  Buy unbleached paper. Many paper products, including some made from recycled fibers, are bleached with chlorine. The bleaching process can create harmful byproducts, including dioxins, which accumulate in our air, water and soil over time.  Also, carry reusable bags to the store to avoid using paper or plastic store bags.

Choose Green Options for Hardwood Floors

Bamboo is considered an environmentally friendly flooring material due to its high yield and the relatively fast rate at which it replenishes itself. It takes just four to six years for bamboo to mature, compared to 50-100 years for typical hardwoods. Just be sure to look for sources that use formaldehyde-free glues.

If you live in Colorado, an even greener option is beetle-kill pine.  If you have been to the mountains in the past few years, you will have noticed an immense amount of trees killed by beetles.  This wood is completely usable for flooring and has beautiful grays and blues running through the grain of the wood.  Also, you don’t have to worry about the energy costs to ship it from another country; it’s right here.

Reduce plastics

Each year, Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags — from grocery and trash bags to those ultra-convenient sandwich bags. Unfortunately, plastics are made from petroleum — the processing and burning of which is considered one of the main contributors to global warming, according to the EPA. In addition, sending plastics to the landfill also increases greenhouse gases. Reduce, re-use and recycle your plastics for one of the best ways to combat global warming.

Use Healthier Paint

Conventional paints contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause smog, ozone pollution and indoor air quality problems with negative health effects, according to the EPA. These unhealthy ingredients are released into the air while you’re painting, while the paint dries and even after the paints are completely dry. Opt instead for zero- or low-VOC paint, made by most major paint manufacturers today.

Garden Green

First, use compost instead of synthetic fertilizers. Compost provides a full complement of soil organisms and the balance of nutrients needed to maintain the soil’s well-being without the chemicals of synthetic fertilizers.  Healthy soil minimizes weeds and is key to producing healthy plants, which in turn can prevent many pest problems from developing to begin with.

Use native plants as much as possible. Native plants have adapted over time to the local environment and support native animals. They also use less water and require less of your attention.

Stop using chemical pesticides. American households use 80 million pounds of pesticides each year, according to the EPA. These toxic chemicals escape gardens and concentrate in the environment, posing threats to animals and people, especially children.

If you are in Colorado, opt for xeriscaping.  A xeriscape promotes creative approaches to water conserving landscapes by helping people improve their landscapes and to reduce the need for water, maintenance and other resources.  For most of the western United States, over fifty percent of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscaping can reduce landscape water use by 60% or more.